Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spiritual pathways

I've been pondering the topic of my upcoming sermon on Dec. 7. Since a parishioner mentioned to me her yearning for more spiritual connection and experience during worship, I've been thinking about how to offer more of this in our worship services. Last week I used several brief periods of silence during the sermon, which folks seemed to like, and I'll probably continue to do that in other sermons. I'm sure I talk too much sometimes.

But in preparation for this service, which comes on the second Sunday of Advent, I've been tracing back in my life to re-live the moments which have been of particular spiritual importance to me.

Of course, it's a tricky subject, because spirituality is such a personal experience. For one person, it might be an insight triggered by a poem or a speaker's words; for another, it might be the emotional expression of gratitude for an act of kindness. For others, these might not be particularly significant at all.

But I have noticed that we can become more attuned to the moments in our lives which offer spiritual experience. We may have to train ourselves to recognize them. We may have to re-structure our lives to be more open to them. We may have to go looking for them. But no matter what, we can't really expect them to be administered by someone else, like a dose of medicine; we have to be open, ourselves, to the experience.

Because we human beings are constantly in a state of transition---from childhood to adolescence, to young adulthood, to parenthood, to marriage or singleness, to job changes, whatever---we also have to recognize that the changes in our daily lives affect our spiritual lives. We are sometimes so busy and preoccupied with the changes in our lives, both big and little, that we are not able to be as mindful of or open to spiritual experience as we might have been at another time.

So just recognizing the hunger for spiritual experience is a positive step. Just knowing that something that gave spiritual sustenance at one time has lost its power for us temporarily---that's a huge insight in itself. It may not feel good but it's a sign that a person is ready to grow and is starting to look around for nurture.

One of the spiritual pathways in my life has been music. One of my earliest spiritual experiences was sitting on a cold, windy hilltop out in far eastern Oregon with friends from our Baptist Youth Fellowship, singing the old hymn "O Worship the King". If you weren't raised in a hymn-singing household, you probably won't resonate to my experience, as I watched the sun come up on a stormy early spring morning with these friends singing these words:

"O tell of his might, o sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space;
his chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.
Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light,
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain."

I can't adequately explain this experience to anyone who hasn't had the kind of life I've had. But I try! And I recognize that music has long been a spiritual pathway for me.

So I'm thinking this week about how to help people find a spiritual pathway that is meaningful to them. And I know that one thing that has helped me has been to have a regular spiritual practice. Prayer is part of my spiritual practice, but mindfulness is another part of it. When I pray that I will be a good minister, my prayer reminds me to be mindful of the meaning in my life, because it is there that I find my spiritual sustenance, in the meaning in my life.

One way that music manifests itself in my spiritual life is that I often wake up in the morning with a song in my mind. I have learned to pay attention to that song because if it's there in the morning, I know it's a manifestation of my inner life. Sometime I'll tell another story about that awareness; I may put it in the sermon.

But right now I'm trying to discern why I have been waking up with "Old Fat Naked Women for Peace" on my mind. I'll let you know.

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